Local muralist earns award nominations, gains recognition for Squid Ink Sushi Bar murals

CAPTION GOES HERE XXX. (Ashley Gistinger/DD)
Justin Queal, whose artwork is displayed at Squid Ink Sushi locations and who will be featured in the coming Push PHX Gallery, said he paints because he wants to help shape the identity of the city. (Ashley Gistinger/DD)

“If you want the community to look or feel different, then you have to create it. The art scene here tells this diverse, multicultural story of downtown Phoenix. It’s the narrative in color.”

These are the words of local artist Justin Queal, whose murals at Squid Ink Sushi Bar’s downtown location earned the restaurant a spot in the top 5 in the category of “Best Bars and Coffee Shops for Art in Phoenix” by “Arizona Foothills Magazine.”

The mural was also a finalist in the “Best Mural” category in “Phoenix New Times’” “Best of Phoenix.”

Queal said the media spotlight on his art has drawn more attention to the downtown art scene.

“Downtown is where you have the big and small business aspect and the high-end corporate role. I feel like by doing artwork that resonates with both, there is a potential that forms a bridge between the two — artwork that speaks to both communities,” he said.

Queal, 37, began his art career in 1997 on Mill Avenue in Tempe. He tried his hand at live painting at a jazz and blues club. From there he began live painting weekly, which he said gave him a rush and helped make his way in the art scene.

“Live painting is improvisation, I paint whatever inspires me in the moment,” Queal said. “When you’re more spontaneous in your process, more energy comes through your work.”

Queal also did the artwork at Squid Ink’s Peoria location. Schuyler Estes, owner of Squid Ink, said it was an easy decision to hire him to do the downtown Phoenix location’s mural.

“We wanted to bring kind of like an urban vibe to the downtown area because we wanted to make it comfortable for the businessman during the day, but also comfortable for an art-savvy hipster at night,” Estes said. “We thought Queal would be a good fit.”

Queal designed three murals for Squid Ink’s downtown location. One of the three depicted a girl with tentacle hair wearing headphones, surrounded by bright blue and red colors.

“I wanted it to feel like a beautiful woman, a very radiant piece,” Queal said. “I liked the idea of giving her tentacles for hair because it really plays into the name of the place.”

The goal of Queal’s artwork is to make the observer feel something, he said.

“You have to believe in your work. It’s an experience you’ve made real, and to a million different people it will mean a million different things,” he said.

Queal, who has been in the Valley’s art scene for 16 years, said he still has the same enthusiasm and passion for his artwork as he had when he first began creating it.

“I’ve always been drawn to art for the expression of it. It’s like I have to do it, like an urge to create,” Queal said. “There are always ideas bubbling; creativity is a flow of energy.”

Queal’s artwork is also displayed in Scottsdale, Los Angeles, New Orleans’s Royal Street galleries and Omaha, Neb.

His work is very diverse — he has created a 10-sculpture permanent installation at Hotel Deco XV in Omaha and has paintings at both the Holland Performing Arts Center and the Witherspoon Concert Hall at the Joslyn Art Museum, also in Omaha.

Queal’s art will also be shown on Nov. 2 in the Push PHX Gallery located near 12th and Roosevelt streets. This will be the fifth anniversary of the Push PHX Gallery, which will feature live bands, food trucks and live painting.

Event coordinator Matt Brown said Queal’s artwork caught his eye, which is why he invited Queal to showcase his work at the gallery.

“I saw his murals for Squid Ink and I really liked what he was doing,” Brown said. The fifth anniversary gallery will feature 25 artists.

“Public work helps shape the experience of the community. Thousands of people will see your work, setting the energy for the space,” Queal said. He said he will be submitting new pieces for this gallery that feature a street art/graffiti feel, which he said is prevalent downtown.

“The rich mix of cultures in Phoenix creates a vibrant visual scene. You can see the city’s story painted on walls and expressed in people’s style,” he said. “Artists tend to set the tone for culture; artists are the trendsetters for the city … This is an exciting period for artists here in downtown Phoenix because we are still in the process of trying to help shape the identity of the city.”

Contact the reporter at Miranda.Romero@asu.edu